I rented 25th Hour, because I couldn't resist Ed Norton staring soulfully out of the cover at me. I have a lot of respect Spike Lee as a director, but I don't always connect with his films. At the risk of becoming a cliche, I imagine it is "a New York thing", and I have never really gotten that.
It was an interesting, well-made film, and I enjoyed it. I was surprised not to have heard of it when it came out, just because Spike Lee tends to make waves when he does things, and while I don't obsessively follow Ed Norton's career, I like him well enough for his name to usually make my ears prick up.
The DVD has an additional piece that's half career retrospective and half 'Making of' called The Evolution of an American Filmmaker. Part of what he talks about is New York as a character in the story, particularly post-9/11 New York. Another extra is a chunk of footage of Ground Zero.
The story follows the main character in the last day before he goes to jail for seven years on drug charges, as he goes around and tries to tie up loose ends. I read a review that claims the major theme is regret, on the small scale of the character's lives as well as on the large scale of the US after the WTC, and it made a number of things fall into place.
The characters were more straightforward than I was expecting, oddly enough - I kept waiting for the last minute counter-betrayal, or counter-counter-betrayal, but that's not really what the focus is. Norton's character gets off amazingly lightly, considering - I have to wonder if that is supposed to be a cautionary parallel, a bit, but that may be pushing things too far.
I suppose the genius is that all of the characters are complex as well, interesting and fleshed out - maybe by straightforward I mean normal, or real... they clearly had lives beyond the story, we never see anyone completely with that artificial crystal clarity that happens in fiction so often, where a character is summed up to the extent that you can hold the totality of them and their motivation in your mind, homunculi. This is not so much a fault of fiction as it is a by-product; any more than the difficulties of drawing a four-dimensional figure in three dimensional space is a fault of physics.
The film ends on kind of an odd note. I suppose it works better in the larger metaphor, but it also makes sense locally, in that while some things are resolved, others aren't - life just goes on, the way it does, whether you are hopeful, or resigned, or oblivious.
It's a good film, I recommend it. I'd be interested in hearing what other people think as well - karlosthejackal, I'm guessing you've seen this if anyone I know has...